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Statement at Nuclear Africa 2015 Conference

Pelindaba, South Africa
Nuclear Africa 2015 Conference
Yukiya Amano

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.

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Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am very pleased to speak at the 2015 Nuclear Africa Conference.

Events such as this are an excellent example of South-South cooperation, which offers great potential benefits to all the countries of this region.

Our host South Africa has long experience in nuclear energy and other peaceful nuclear applications, which it actively shares with other countries on the African continent and beyond.

I am grateful for South Africa's participation in all areas of the work of the IAEA, and for the training, fellowships and technical assistance in the nuclear field which it provides to others.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last week marked the fourth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan.

The accident caused great distress and hardship for the people directly affected. It will take a long time for all the clean-up work to be completed. The accident also undermined public confidence in nuclear power throughout the world.

Some people predicted a period of prolonged global stagnation for nuclear power, as was the case after the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

But, in fact, that hasn’t happened. IAEA projections continue to show the use of nuclear power growing in the coming decades, although at a slightly slower rate than was predicted before the accident.

What has changed? I believe there are a number of factors.

Energy is the engine of development and economic growth. Demand for energy continues to grow steadily in all countries.

Nuclear power can help to improve energy security, mitigate the effects of climate change, and make economies more competitive. Nuclear can deliver the steady supply of baseload electricity needed to power a modern economy.

Technically and financially, access to nuclear power is no longer limited to developed countries.

There are presently 440 nuclear power reactors in operation in 30 countries. Another 68 are under construction.

Major existing users of nuclear power such as China and India have big expansion plans for the next 20 years or so. But many new countries also plan to introduce nuclear power.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear power has obvious attractions for countries in Africa, which are keen to develop reliable sources of energy that will allow them to grow their economies.

Supporting Africa is a high priority for the IAEA. We are working closely with countries interested in nuclear power to help them build the necessary expertise.

I should stress that it is the sovereign decision of each individual country whether or not to add nuclear power to its energy mix.

We do not try to influence that decision in any way. But for countries that choose nuclear power, our job is to help in every way we can.

We advise on how to put the appropriate legal and regulatory framework in place and how to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and safeguards.

We offer know-how on the construction, commissioning, start-up and safe operation of nuclear reactors. We establish global nuclear safety standards and security guidance. We offer expert peer review missions to assess the operational safety of nuclear power plants and the effectiveness of nuclear regulators - and in many other areas.

We can help with the decommissioning of plants at the end of their lifetimes and with waste disposal.

The end-result, we hope, is that countries will be able to introduce nuclear power safely, securely and sustainably.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nuclear power is a unique technology with unique requirements. It involves a long-term commitment and requires significant financial and human resources.

Issues such as radioactive waste management, and public perceptions, must be carefully considered from the very beginning of a nuclear power programme.

Africa faces an additional challenge concerning the relative size of the grid necessary to support the introduction of nuclear power.

This year, the IAEA will, for the first time, conduct Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review, or INIR, missions to Nigeria, Kenya and Morocco - three countries which are considering introducing nuclear power.

These are review missions by international experts who help countries assess the status of their national nuclear infrastructure. They are part of the comprehensive package of assistance which the IAEA provides to help ensure that even the most challenging issues in introducing nuclear power can be successfully dealt with.

Two important challenges involve costs and waste management.

The high cost of building a nuclear power plant is seen by some as an obstacle to future development. Nuclear power plants are indeed expensive to build, but once they are up and running, they are relatively inexpensive to operate throughout a life cycle of 30 or 40 years - or even more.

Waste disposal is often cited as one of the major problems facing nuclear power.

In fact, the nuclear industry has been managing waste disposal for more than half a century. Dozens of facilities for low-level and intermediate-level nuclear waste are in operation throughout the world.

As far as the management of high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel is concerned, good progress has been made in recent years, especially in Finland, Sweden and France.

The IAEA, with 163 Member States, brings together countries with advanced nuclear power programmes and what we call "newcomers."

This sharing of knowledge and experience means newcomers are not condemned to repeat the mistakes of pioneers.

They can benefit sooner from the shorter construction times, more profitable performance, and higher safety levels of today's best plants. There may be potential for smaller countries to cooperate regionally on nuclear power projects which might be too expensive for any one of them on its own.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Technologically, this is an exciting time for nuclear power. Remarkable research is being done on new generations of reactors which will be safer and generate less waste. Innovative work is also being done on long-term disposal of nuclear waste.

I am confident that technological developments already in the pipeline will make nuclear power even safer, and more efficient, in future. They could help ensure that the world can meet its electricity needs for thousands of years.

Fast reactors and closed fuel cycles, for example, have the potential to ensure that energy resources which would last hundreds of years with the technology we are using today will actually last as much as 6,000 years.

We cannot predict with any certainty when fast reactors will come into widespread use, which will depend to a significant extent on economic factors. But it is important to press ahead with the research and development.

Small and medium-sized reactors are another fascinating area of development.

Around 45 innovative small and medium-sized reactor concepts are at various stages of research and development and four countries are already building them: Argentina, China, India and Russia.

I am proud of the work being done by the Agency to help bring about innovation, for example through INPRO – the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It goes without saying that safety is key to the future development of nuclear power. The Fukushima Daiichi accident was a painful reminder that a terrible accident can happen anywhere, even in a developed industrial country.

To prevent anything like it ever happening again, plant operators, nuclear regulators, and governments must demonstrate total and visible commitment to the principle of "safety first."

Complacency in the area of nuclear safety must be avoided at all costs.

I believe that the lasting legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be a significant and lasting improvement in safety at nuclear power plants all over the world.

The changes are already apparent. I have seen major improvements in safety features in every nuclear power plant that I have visited since the accident.

This gives me confidence that nuclear power will remain an important part of the energy mix of many countries for decades. I have no doubt that a number of African nations will be among them.

We at the IAEA look forward to strengthening and deepening our cooperation with our African Member States in the nuclear energy field in the coming decades.

I wish you a successful conference.

Thank you.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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